“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
The Fashion Syndicate
As officially recognized father of haute couture, Charles Frederick Worth was not only concerned about haute couture clothing but also about all the practical details and legal status of the hand-made craftsmanship. As a result, The Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne – an association of Parisian couturiers, based on the idea of medieval guild – was established in 1868. The organisation would regulate its members in regard to piracy of styles, dates of openings for collections, number of models presented, relations with press, questions of law and taxes, and promotional activities.
In 1927 the Syndicate founded L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in order to educate new designers and thereby support the ‘couture’ houses that are still present today.
In 1945 the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne set up the criteria for haute couture and in 1992 updated the latters. Today, the term ‘haute couture’ is protected by law that in its turn refers to the rules of the organisation and also subject of control of the French Ministry for Industry.
Thus, to earn the right to call itself a ‘couture house’ and to use the term ‘haute couture’ in its advertising and any other way, members of the organisation must:
- Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
- Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen staff members full-time.
- Have twenty, full-time technical people in at least one workshop (atelier).
- Every season, present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public, both day and evening garments, in January and July of each year.
The schedule for the Fall Winter 2017-2018 Haute Couture Collections presented in Paris included 13 ordinary members, 4 correspondent members and 17 guest members.
The permanent members of the organisation are Adeline André, Alexandre Vauthier, Alexis Mabille, Christian Dior, Chanel, Franck Sorbier, Giambatista Valli, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Julien Fournié, Maison Margiela, Maurizio Galante, Schiaparelli and Stéphane Rolland. Meanwhile Elie Saab, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Viktor & Rolf and Zuhair Murad are considered to be “correspondent members”. Iris van Herpen, Ulyana Sergeenko and Yuima Nakazato are ‘guest members’ today. The fashion house of Yves Saint Laurent ceased making haute couture collections in 2002 and therefore, is no longer on the list.
The amount of female haute couture customers today counts not more than four thousand, thereof around sixty percent are American. However, there are new customers from Russia, China and the Middle East among those. Nevertheless, only two hundred women are regular ‘members of the club’.
Often, designers will loan clothes to movie stars or other public figures for wearing at Oscars, Golden Globe, etc. Usually, in such a case celebrities will wear the runway/showroom sample (thus, they must fit into the runway size 2) because it is too expensive to create a separate dress specifically for them but there are exceptions. Afterwards, the couture gowns are returned to the designers to be placed in the archive.
A customer, desiring to acquire an haute couture art piece, has to, first of all, make an appointment with the design house prior to any visit to Paris. Sometimes model garments are out of the country being shown elsewhere. For serious purchasers, such as ‘the members of the club’ some couture houses provide a video of the collection.
Once given an appointment the client is in the custody of a vendeuse (saleswoman), who is responsible for the order, supervision and the fitting.
After choosing a model and being measured, a customer should be prepared for three fittings, sometimes more. Finally, at the final fitting, the garment should fit like a glove underscoring the client’s good figure points and dissembling bad figure flaws.
The prices are everything between heaven and earth; a simple blouse can cost between €10,000 and €40,000. A couture jacket can cost about €25,000, a cocktail dress – €40,000 and a gown can start from €90,000+.
The price includes service, workmanship, exclusivity of design and materials of the finest quality. The manual labour required to create an haute couture piece varies between 100-150 hours for a suit and up to 1,000 hours for an embroidered evening dress. Today haute couture creations are often regarded as collector’s pieces, making for a clever investment.
In my view, haute couture, as a product of human activity, constitutes a visual form of art. This art form is as important for subsequent evolution of world culture as painting and sculpture are.Iin the world of fashion haute couture could fairly be compared wth the fulfilling role of violoncello in an orchestra – no classical music without it.
Prêt-à-porter or ready-to-wear is the term for factory-made clothing in standard sizes that became popular at 1960s. Standard patterns, factory equipment and faster construction techniques are used for the manufacturing. Prêt-à-porter collections which fashion houses make, gain much more profit than haute couture. Nevertheless, the designers maintain haute couture operations due to the prestige that helps sell their ready-to-wear lines and other products, such as perfume and cosmetics available in stores.